There are things in my past that I’m not too proud of, but paying my middle schooler $150 to clean up the entire house will not be one of them. For the past few months, she has been complaining about needing to replace her 3-year-old broken iPod, and I’m not above the bribery involved with replacing it. Bribery is an underrated strategy in the psychological warfare of parenthood anyway, and I’m not above it.
In fact, at this point, I would donate my organs to the black market to never hear Janey say the word iPod, ever again! And, in the grand scheme of things, paying her $150 is way better than my other two options:
1.) Sticking sharp objects into my ears, or
2.) Living without a set of lungs.
Lately, I feel as though I’m trying to keep my head above water while figuring out a decent approach to parenting through the teenage years, which is already proving to be more difficult than any of the previous years I thought were also difficult…combined! I’m coming to the stark realization that this is par for course, which means that it’s time to buckle down and to come up with strategies similar to the ones I used during potty training, except now the currency is in cold hard cash, not M&Ms.
The scary thing is, it’s not JUST the iPod, either.
Janey’s thoughts lately seem to lurch from her tiny frame like a rolling, bubbling stream of worry that never seems to have an final end. For the past weeks, the Executive and I have had to listen to her come downstairs complaining in a series we have come to know as:
“100 Social Nightmares to Expect While Entering the 7th Grade”
It’s a tragic story.
Regardless of the annoyances of her complaining, the Executive and I always listen patiently, oftentimes looking at each other, wondering if we still have that same child who was always so wide-eyed, energetic and spirited (that’s the nice word all of the parenting books told me to use anyway).
We even considered, at least for a brief moment, the slim chance that she may have been abducted by aliens when we weren’t looking. Perhaps they put her back together carelessly with a few nuts and bolts left over. If that is the case, I’m almost certain that bits and pieces of her are currently floating around in the darkest reaches of outer-space.
Realistically, most days, we enjoy being the parents of three girls. Not only are they all a little bit motherly to each other, albeit sometimes of the abusive variety, but the savings we reap from our hand-me-downs alone are outstanding.
When the Executive and I are living in sync, we knock the socks off of this whole parenting girls thing…and life thing…and supporting each other thing, and so, our number one goal right now is to start with us. We need to refine the edges of our marriage to make it as strong as we possibly can, which is more effective than any amount of bribery, and way cheaper than therapy.
Lately, this has involved a lot of work from the ground up; filling in the blanks we left wide open; figuring out where we drifted apart; finding better approaches; meeting each other’s needs; and, most importantly, allowing ourselves to feel joy, even when life tries to overcome us with its inevitable chaos.
The only way to find our way back to common ground is to start back at the very beginning.
When we first met, the Executive was practical and hard-working; I was a writer and a dreamer. He would give himself a hard time, never feeling like he was living up to his potential; I would remind him to close his eyes and let himself take a chance on the possibility that, if he jumped, he might actually fly. He made me think about things in a different, more responsible way; I made him look at the lighter side of life, at the undercurrent that carries with it so much hope and beauty and wonder, the possibility that anything can happen if we just opened ourselves up to living life optimistically while feeling the joy in incremental gains.
Over the years, even though we continued to live life together, we stopped communicating as well as we did in the beginning. Instead, we learned to compartmentalize our lives, focusing on our shared space from our individual realms. We stopped being there for each other, instead reaping the rewards of our hard work separately, or groveling in our own separate miseries.
For a while, that worked, especially when the kids where little. Back then it was a method of survival. He brought home the money; I took care of the children, the household responsibilities, and the meals. Most nights, dinner was a hodgepodge of things thrown together. I would have a baby feeding at my breast, trying my hardest not to drop chicken salad on her face as I carried my fork on the path from my plate to my mouth. The older girls would be fighting, spilling milk, or throwing a fit over macaroni and cheese that they decided ten minutes before mealtime that they no longer liked. The Executive would run errands back and forth for more paper towels and refills, but for the most part, he played it safe by staying quiet. Over the years, he learned to avoid the stress of chaotic mealtimes by sinking into his own head, thinking about what happened at work that day and how to tackle the next one without allowing himself to take a break in between.
He was weighed down at work, always unsure of what the next thing was going to be. But, over time, I had stopped paying attention to him. I forgot to remind him to focus on the good things in life and to approach opportunity without the fear of failing. Somewhere along the lines, he became depressed without either of us realizing it. He became passive in going through the motions of life without allowing himself enough space breathe.
Meanwhile, I was homeschooling the kids to save us from the trenches of a less-than-favorable school district. I got out in the community. I made friends. At some point, he stopped asking me what the girls were learning, what did that day, or how I was feeling. Slowly, he would start to separate from me, but, by nature, I’m a relational person who draws energy from other people. It only makes sense that the more he pulled away and got down about life, the less I wanted to be around him. It was like he was sucking the energy out of me slowly, like a cat sucking the breath from a sleeping baby, or a witch who steals the youth from a small child.
As time pressed on, I forgot to care about what went on at work, and if he did tell me, I was barely listening. I had made a wealth of friends, and if he was in a bad mood, I would simply get in the car and leave. Running became my way to beat out frustrations without ever facing them. Perhaps when I thought running 30 miles a week was a healthy approach to fitness, I should have come to my senses and realized that I was no longer paying attention to those essential things that I used to revolve my life around faithfully.
Joy. Peace. Gratitude.
As I slowly slipped into my own stress with my cortisol levels going through the roof, I started to build animosity towards him. As our marriage drifted apart, I started to regret the things I gave up for our family so long ago: my education, my own life, and, somewhere along the lines, my own sense of happiness.
As the kids have gotten older, I have had more time to myself to explore other options, but the Executive was nowhere to be found; at least not mentally or emotionally. Physically it became like dragging around a shadow of himself, and I had forgotten who that man was hanging around and taking up space. We had grown so far apart that the only thing we would do when the kids weren’t around, was stare into our individual handheld technology.
In the times that we did try to put things aside and focus on each other, it was like coming face to face with a complete stranger. We were each so different than we used to be, grown now and looking so differently. For the most part, I was searching for a way out, reminding him that it was time to move because, realistically, I was barely keeping things running smoothly in our personal lives while also being responsible for the education of three children in three different grades. He put us on the back burner; I decided that I no longer cared. The pressure when we were around each other continued to grow with more intensity, and the feeling became suffocating. I would eventually search for a way to get out from underneath it all, to save my own life, and to find my way back to my old self again.
If the Executive has always claimed one thing to be true about me,
it’s that I’m one of the most determined people he has ever come into contact with.
And, that’s a pretty true statement.
My will-power to get from point A to point B is always met with transformations and visiting my soul. I always search for a deeper purpose and meaning to my actions, carrying forth with every effort it takes to succeed.
my goal about this time last year was to break free from our combined misery.
I decided that if the Executive was going to be miserable, he would have to do that on his own. Instead, I decided to take a different approach: the only way back to life for me was to face it alone, head on, and bravely.
Slowly, I started cutting out friends who were toxic and negative, always having something smart-ass and arrogant to say. They were the passive-aggressive type who threw up their insecurities all over the place with a one-upmanship mentality. The point where I let friends and family dump their brokenness all over me is something I will forever be unsure of, but it is something I will never allow into my life again.
The funny thing is, even though there was conflict with letting people go and getting rid of old habits, I started to actually feel better. I had learned how to stand up on my own two feet, to be myself without apology, and, as a result, my life started to drastically change. I figured out how to make myself happy, loving myself exactly as I am. I learned how to smile, to find joy in simple things, and I started this blog so that I could have an outlet for writing again.
A few weeks ago I was out bike riding with the girls. Janey and I were taking up the rear, riding parallel behind her two younger sisters who were daredevil biking up through various yards and crossing in front of each other.
“Mommy,” she said. “You’re really getting rid of a lot of people in your life lately.”
It sounded alarming coming out of her mouth. I started to worry that I was doing something terribly wrong, guiding her impressionable mind in the wrong direction.
“What do you mean? Do you think it’s really wrong of me?” I asked.
“No! Are you kidding me? I think it’s AWESOME! I think you have just learned what it takes to make yourself happy.”
Sometimes, that kid’s insight alone is worth $150 in charity.
She was right, too. That’s exactly what I had done. However, there was a catch. When I had stood back up, I was alone. Sure the kids were there, but I left the Executive down in the ditch, wallowing in his own misery. He would cry, holding his hand up and telling me to take him along.
“I want to be happy with you,” he would say.
But, I refused to go back to things that had become suffocating, like having cocktails on the weekends and always complaining about everything. He never let himself feel the joy of incremental successes anymore, instead he had become accustomed to always waiting for the bottom to fall out, which ruined all of the good things coming our way.
“Are you kidding me?” I would end up asking. That question alone would span the length of this past Christmas, right through Valentine’s Day, all through Lent and it swallowed up Easter.
“When are you EVER going to let yourself be happy?” I would ask.
Without any resolution from his end to make things better, I decided, finally, that I was done. I found someone else to talk to instead of bottling these things up inside and letting them fester there in little cardboard boxes that were bursting at the seams. I had to keep feeling the release of getting all of the words I needed to say out into the open because, holding it all in, would have nearly killed me.
It was a Sunday when I left. I had gone upstairs and put my finger in his face. Tears where streaming down my cheeks and I could barely get the words out while continuing to breathe.
“You don’t get to have me anymore,” I had said. “I will not stay here with you!”
I was gone throughout the morning, most of the afternoon, and by evening, the kids would start to call me on my cell phone.
“Why did you come back?” he had asked when I walked through the door.
“I guess have nowhere else to go.”
“I don’t either.”
This is our house. These are our children. This is our life.
“Then I guess we better figure this out somehow, but I refuse to live life this way,” I responded. “Emotionally you are completely draining me. I desperately need to live my life with someone, wholly!”
(I had grown stronger and more vocal when he wasn’t paying attention; I wasn’t the same girl he married on a whim back in our early twenties. All of that time we had spent growing apart, I had grown into a woman who learned to breathe life again. I had started to embrace it, gratefully. I had started taking yoga and could feel my hormones aligning perfectly. My body started to return to a normal weight after carrying three babies. Physically, I started to relax along with my mind and my spirit. The release was exhilarating.)
“Then I’ll live life wholly with you!” he responded. He was passionate and intense. He walked closer to me, grabbing my shoulders and pulling me close to him. He looked me in the eyes and touched his forehead against mine. “You listen to me! I am YOUR man. You are MY woman. There is no way that I can live life without you in it.”
“I can’t if you won’t live life with me.”
“I promise that I will.”
Things, slowly, would start to change.
WE started praying together. WE started making meals on the weekends together with NPR in the background. WE put our house on the market and sold it within twelve hours, finding a house WE both loved within a great school district for the girls.
The Executive has started allowing himself to feel his way through life with me again.
I got him out on his bike, taking him adventuring with the kindergartener and I. As a result, the smiles on his face have started to become less programmed, more alive and true, as if he is starting to actually enjoy the blessings found in each day.
This past Friday, the Executive was supposed to be off of work and our plan was to drive to the girls new school district to meet with the administration and to go exploring. However, half an hour before we needed to walk out of the door, he had a last minute meeting he had to attend. Considering that school has always been a sensitive subject, I became upset with him.
“Are you kidding me? I thought we were in this together. I am NOT going through this again where I handle everything in our personal lives alone while you get to be the sperm donor who only sometimes shows up to things. These are OUR kids! I refuse to go back to doing life alone.”
I walked out of the door anyway, leaving him behind, but this time not so severely as that grim Sunday when I thought I would never come back home. Instead, the girls and I drove around. I took the middle schooler to get her new iPod. The Executive called me over and over again, obsessively texting me.
So, I blocked his number, turned on some good music, and found a way to make myself feel happy again.
When we got home, he was there. We exchanged a few words, but we got over it and moved on fairly quickly, even though just a few short weeks ago, a fight like that would have spanned over days until the problems were swept under the rug with all of the broken glass, spilt milk, and all of the other hard-to-deal-with, self-defeating types of things.
Later on that night, we sat in the garage where it’s quiet and free of mosquitos. We were having a good conversation over wine and a grotto candle the Executive picked up on clearance at the grocery store. For some reason, he is fascinated by those things.
“How is it that we had that huge blow up today, but we got over it so quickly?” the Executive asked.
“Well,” I responded. “I think we have been making deposits in our joy reserves lately, so, they were pretty full at the time. For years I think we had been making countless withdrawals without ever investing.”
He raised his eyebrows in that way that has always driven me crazy with attraction to him. Out of all of the things that had gone wrong between us for a really long time, our physical relationship has never been lacking.
“Right now are we investing in the joy of our marriage?” he asked, but before I could answer, he leaned across and kissed me passionately.
“Yes,” I responded when I regained my breath. “I think so…most definitely.”
A Message to the Reader:
I have learned a valuable lesson recently, and that is that if you feel something, get it out of your system. Don’t bottle it up inside around a million excuses; instead, let your frustrations be heard, but the key is to do so gracefully. I haven’t always been so great at that, but I’m learning. Trust me, it makes all of the difference in the world.
To the Women:
Never let yourself be a doormat for bitter people, their energy will wear you down pretty quickly. And, if your spouse acts like a jerk, tell him so, but don’t apologize for feeling that way because when you do that, you immediately devalue yourself as a woman; no part of marriage can function well that way.
Also know, that it’s okay to be a stay-at-home mom, to work, to homeschool, or to take whatever your individual path may be. The key is to make yourself heard and to find someone who supports those things inside of you that lead you in the right direction. You have the right to stand up and to follow your own dreams.
Both within ourselves and within our relationships, we have to surround ourselves with people and things that harbor joy and bring a sense of peace with where we are and with who we are, accepting both the good and the bad, but not focusing solely on all of the things that can go wrong in life. Doing so is paralyzing.
Move forward with strength and dignity. Never settle for less than you deserve. Make yourself heard, find resolutions that work, invest in yourself, and love wholly who you are without apology.
After finding balance with myself internally, I have equipped myself with the ability to help others to do the same. I feel like that is my duty in life, a way I can give back through writing out loud and emitting good energy all around me and being a good friend.
We all go through life sometimes living with our guards up and our blinders on. We tailor our lives to fit into the confines of what others expect of us instead of leaving the comfort of boundaries and figuring out what it is that we, as an individual, bring to the table.
Love yourself and others and life, wholly.
Allow yourself to feel good about things.
Never sit around waiting for the bottom to fall out because, if it does, you won’t have a wealth of joy built up in your reserves, both within yourself and within your relationships, to prevent it from nearly killing you.
There is absolutely NO other way to go about things!
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